Like most international cities, London is under constant redevelopment, both from international financiers and its own governing bodies, with demographics that are in constant flux as the capital’s prosperity soars. Yet much of the city is still comparatively poor, particularly in the south, with a population that can ill afford the increased costs that development inevitably brings.
To preserve these existing communities, local councils tackle development in a slow, piecemeal fashion, making small investments and improvements instead of the drastic regenerations that are the hallmark of most private developers. “It’s not gentrification,” says Edward Maddison, who, with his younger brother Alfie, run Maddison Graphic, a design studio based in Norwich, on the east coast of England. “It’s light-touch stuff really. Hopefully it’s just about giving people better facilities and sprucing things up a little bit.”
Together the brothers have come to spend a great deal of their time working on London’s urban regeneration initiatives. In collaboration with the Greater London Authority (GLA) and architecture and public urbanism consultancy We Made That, the pair have produced all manner of printed collateral, tying together several sprawling projects.
Mostly Maddison Graphic has worked on What Walworth Wants, a consultation document that proposes development solutions to one of south London’s scruffiest areas. Following robust research among local communities it proposes simple, scalable solutions to increase footfall at local markets, improve the state of walkways, revamp signage, and provide direct support to local businesses.
“It’s very public-oriented,” says Alfie. “It’s a way of bringing together people’s aspirations and being realistic about making them happen. In the back of the document there’s a next-steps table about funding options that vary in scale and cost. If you wanted you could say, ‘well let’s just do something to this corner here,’ or at a larger scale, make the library into a community center. It’s a useful document for instigating development work in the area.”
This type of project reflects a growing trend among London councils to engage their local communities in development—and embrace the role of design in doing so. Numerous high streets in dilapidated areas have been updated and refreshed by a selection of socially conscious design consultancies, of which Maddison Graphic are just one. Agencies work directly with shopkeepers to offer them unique new branding that coheres with the identity of other local businesses.
“It’s happening all over London at the moment,” says Edward, “and most of the money comes from the GLA. The funding is public in almost all cases, and with the shop fronts the owners are given a percentage of the cost of doing the work. Most people are welcoming it because it gives them the opportunity to get new signage designed by us, and I think they’ll get more value from it than a private company might. It’s very nice work to do because it feels like we’re making a positive difference.”
The influx of developmental design currently enjoyed by the Maddison brothers is the result of what’s known as a “framework agreement” with the GLA, that leases the studio’s services to various councils across London for “small chunks” of design. This has led to projects with the Mayor’s Design Advisory Group , a body that ensures the support and encouragement of good design practice across the capital, for whom they’ve designed a number of documents—Growing London, Public London, Ageing London, and Shaping London—that forecast changes in the city and propose various methods to deal with them.
While the contents might seem dense to the uninitiated, creating accessibility from the intimidating is Maddison Graphic’s bread and butter. “We want to always make things very clear and appealing,” says Edward, “but we’re always thinking about broad audiences. It would be unfair to say that our work was elitist. It’s about just doing things in the simplest, most straightforward, and most relevant way possible. That’s the aspiration, anyway. I’m not sure that we always pull it off, but we’re very concerned with the fact that everyone enjoys what we do.”
Though it may not be high-profile, this new niche fits Maddison Graphic well, and appeals to its unassuming nature as a studio. “I feel like there are so many interesting people involved in work like this,” says Edward. “But it doesn’t feel like it’s very present or that people are aware of it. It’s not like redesigning the National Theatre or working for Nike—it’s quite subtle, and really only experienced by a local community. In that sense it’s very appealing.”